The Narrow Corner, xxix

Just when I was ready to write The Narrow Corner off as an unambitious work from Maugham, he has something to say on that very subject—the reader’s expectation for the novel and how it operates in relation to characters’ expectations for themselves and others. It’s a very impressive chapter, most of it, as it forces the protagonist to look into an unexpected mirror. Maybe if Maugham had structured it differently; all the introspection coming at the end of the novel does allow for “surprises” and maybe some reader expectation “pay-off,” but it doesn’t do much service to the characters. They’re far more interesting than he let on. If I remember my MFA school correctly, it was Gordon Lish who described a novel as a house and a short story as a room in the house. With The Narrow Corner, Maugham seems like he wants to show off a few rooms but gets stuck showing off the entire house, which is—again—sort of a perfectly Maugham problem to have.

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